The Valley of the Sun

In my “new” bedroom, there’s a window the size of a Francisco Goya painting with a northward view of some shade trees, desert willows, and a six-lane road that spans the length of northern Phoenix. The window itself is nice because it opens easily and is never hit by direct sunlight—in the autumn and winter months, it lets in cool, fresh air in the evening, easing the sometimes-fitful transition to sleep. Traffic, however, can be quite noisy and bothersome, particularly during rush hours, and especially with the immoderate amount of motorcyclists and muffler-less car enthusiasts. Negative aspects aside, I like the window. Just as I like Goya’s painting, The Second of May 1808, despite its dismal tone.

At my “new” daytime profession, I stand behind a counter and move items, mostly produce, from one hand to the other and ensure there’s an audible beep and that numbers on a screen match corresponding numbers on a sign I haven’t seen. (For those of you outside the realm of retail, this is the magic of POS technology, which can either stand for “point of sale” or “piece of shit” depending on the day.) Sometimes there’s no beep, sometimes the numbers don’t match. Every time I ask, “How are you? Find everything okay today? Would you prefer paper or plastic?” When I answer the phone, whether I’m at work or at home, I must sometimes stop myself from uttering one of my go-to customer service phrases.

These things—the window, my job—are “new” because I have been in Arizona for only 11 months, or about 3.5 percent of my life. It simultaneously feels like an incredible amount of time and no time at all; I wonder if perception of time changes not only with age and maturity but location as well. When you’ve spent your whole life operating in EST and suddenly you’re two or three hours behind friends, family, the market, etc., it can be jarring.

Despite all our trouble coming out here, Andrew, Caitlin, and I have all found work, secured mostly-functional vehicles, and are doing well. I miss those EST friends, family, and familiar Indy skyline, but I love Arizona’s saguaros, sunshine, and now that it’s July, monsoons. We’ve hiked and explored much of what the community has to offer but every day is a new opportunity to learn more and discover.

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Hello from sunny McDowell Sonoran Preserve Trails! We’ve made to the Brown’s Mountain summit (3,253′) twice so far—a hardy trek for me, a brisk warm-up for others.

What’s left is open and ever-changing as the desert sky. Where do I go from here?

Countless people have asked me, “So why’d you move to Arizona?” or some variation of that question. I’ve answered differently depending on the circumstances, but I usually go with, “Well, I’m still in my twenties, I’ve never lived outside of Indiana and it beats shoveling snow in the winter.” All of which is true (for me, at least). Sometimes I talk about a moment I shared with my ’95 Buick Century back in Indianapolis in February 2015. It was just after sunrise, about 7:45 a.m., and Cronus (the Buick) is idling unhappily. I’m stepping back into the driver’s side after scraping frost from the windows and when I reach to turn the wiper switch, the blades utter an audible moan, perhaps a cry of defeat, before a pop and then silence and the grumble of the engine continue. In that instance, I laughed.

2014-10-20 16.24.51
Breathtaking views aplenty in Sedona, Ariz., thanks to the Schnebly Hill Formation which is approximately 267 million years old.

So at least the weather is nice. I’ll take haboobs and monsoons over blizzards and tornadoes any day of the week. As for the heat, it’s not so bad in the shade. Or if you pretend you live in a steamless sauna. But what about the people? What about how I live life?

I’m still figuring that out. There’s an air of elitism in and around the Scottsdale area, and I’m not here to condemn or complain about income inequality or the virulence of greed—it just makes me mindful of how I interact with and treat people on a daily basis. If an older customer at the grocery store is struggling with a heavy item, I offer assistance. If a driver insists on merging without signaling, everything is in its right place. Because in the end, we’re—human beings, Homo sapiens sapiens—all meatbags with physical features and accessories. I acknowledge the risk of sounding like an after-school special, but none of that matters when at the end of the day, you recall how people treat you. So why not make the effort of kindness?

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Arizona sunsets. Sorry, Indy, the West might have you beat on this.

It took a long time to put these thoughts into words, let alone coherent thoughts. Thank you to everyone who has been so supportive, especially my family, because without you I could not have gotten this far. Still, so for we’ve yet to go. For the future: more writing, more exploring, and more love. I must hold myself accountable to not let hate get the better of me, and lift my friends up as they lift me up when the time comes.

The Phoenician Trail: Part II

If I believed in luck, I would consider myself a lucky person. I came into this world with two caring parents who love me and saw me through to adulthood, more or less successfully. Not only that, but despite a divorce and my mother raising me while working multiple jobs, I had access to food, clothes, education and virtually anything I needed.

Luck is a peculiar concept. I can easily see how one might endure a sequence of unfortunate events and consider the strain a series of “bad luck.” However, on our journey, despite numerous setbacks, I strove to see the positive in everything. Difficult though it was (and continues to be), I believe this is the key to maintaining happiness in the direst of situations.

We were about to head across the state line between Colorado and New Mexico when I noticed the car was behaving sluggishly. The winds coming down from the Rockies were monstrous, and we were driving a car packed to the brim with people and everything we owned. Still, you know something’s wrong when a turbo-charged Subaru is struggling to stay at 40 mph. Oh, yeah. And it was leaking more oil than BP.

We stopped in Trinidad, Col., to survey the situation. Since we were short of daylight and competent personnel at O’Reilly Auto Parts, the solution to our auto-daemons would have to wait until morning.

At least the place we stopped had mountains. I don't think I'll ever get tired of mountains. / Eric Ellis
At least the place we stopped had mountains. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of mountains. / Eric Ellis

(Fun fact about Trinidad: it became known as the “Sex Change Capital of the World” after Dr. Stanley Biber moved there and performed countless sex change operations. Yes, I found this out by Googling the town out of utter boredom. You can find out more here.)

Good lookin' out, Walmart Pikachu. Even though you're a level-one piece of trash. / Eric Ellis
Good lookin’ out, Walmart Pikachu. Even though you’re a level-one piece of trash. / Eric Ellis

In the morning, Z slapped on some steel-reinforced epoxy putty on the leak and we put-putted our way to Sante Fe (which would have been lovely if it weren’t for the soul-crushing stress). We stopped at Auto Zone to do some things you should never do to a car (see below), got a bite to eat at Blue Corn Cafe and Brewery (which I would recommend to a friend), and got a hotel.

Holy guacamole. The beer was great, too. Fresh out the vat. / Eric Ellis
Holy guacamole. The beer was great, too. Fresh out the vat. / Eric Ellis

The Subaru was performing less than admirably, and by that, I mean this: despite our best efforts, two new tires, lots of promises to secular Gods and more than a handful of swearwords, we were still hitting 6,000 RPMs to trudge up a small hill at 30 mph. The engine was overheating and every five or ten minutes we had to stop to pour water on the damn thing. Eventually we took the grill off.

I park where I want! Seriously, though, thanks Firestone dude who put on two new tires in a brief downpour. / Eric Ellis
I park where I want! Seriously, though, thanks Firestone dude who put on two new tires in a brief downpour. / Eric Ellis
Kids, don't try this at home! But if your parents want to... have them go to Auto Zone and get crap to pour in your radiator to see if it fixes the engine overheating. Then, when it doesn't fix it, get a Vitamin Water bottle and collect the overflow! Be sure to get as much as possible all over your hands. Totally not corrosive. / Eric Ellis
Kids, don’t try this at home! But if your parents want to… have them go to Auto Zone and get crap to pour in your radiator to see if it fixes the engine overheating. Then, when it doesn’t fix it, get a Vitamin Water bottle and collect the overflow! Be sure to get as much as possible all over your hands. Totally not corrosive. / Eric Ellis
Robbed a jewelry store and told 'em to "take off that grill." / Eric Ellis
Robbed a jewelry store and told ’em, “take off that grill.” / Eric Ellis

Luckily (there’s that word again), we were in a nice hotel. Which was convenient because getting dicked around all day can really exhaust you. But more on that in the next installment.

The Phoenician Trail: Part I

You know the part of The Oregon Trail game at the beginning where you’re still on the prairie and you’re talking to the townspeople trying to figure out what to bring and what you’ll need? Well, it’s a pretty accurate representation of what it’s been like uprooting from Indianapolis—with the intent of transporting bodies, belongings, vehicles, and everything in between all safely to Phoenix, a mere 1,700 miles away.

Adiós, Indiana. You will be missed. Oh, yeah. This is a trash can in Terre Haute. / Caitlin O'Haraf
Adiós, Indiana. You will be missed. Oh, yeah. This is a trash can in Terre Haute. / Caitlin O’Hara

My travel companions, Andrew Chrisman and Caitlin O’Hara, made their own calculations regarding road-trip necessities. After the innumerable moving headaches and setbacks, we set off.

Wow, what a surprise. Who would have thought we were travelling southwest on our journey from Indy to Sonora? / Eric Ellis
Wow, what a surprise. Who would have thought we were travelling southwest on our journey from Indy to Sonora? / Eric Ellis

Day one saw us unremarkably through Illinois to the heart of Missouri. Rivers were crossed without losing any oxen and no one died from dysentery—a success by any measure. I think the only things that struck me as odd were the three different vehicles we saw that were “flying” the Confederate flag. And then I realized that there was nothing odd about the persistence of systemic racism… but I think the really unfortunate thing is people who feel inclined to display the flag are doing so because they truly believe “honors (their) history”.

Day two was Kansas. For lunch, we stopped at a place that advertised itself on a billboard as “The #1 BBQ in Kansas City.” When Andrew spotted a “cook” behind the counter popping pulled pork into the microwave, we left and hit up Zarda. I would recommend it to a friend, as long as that friend wasn’t a nervous trainwreck. Nervous trainwrecks are notorious for their horrible appetites.

A quick aside: as dull as Kansas is, there’s a quaint charm in its rolling hills that yield to endless fields of soy and grain. I’d once heard that Kansas was literally flatter than a pancake, but the truth is a bit more complicated than that.

In our best effort to get the hell out of Dodge, we were heavy on the throttle all the way to Denver, which may have been a mistake since finding a hotel room was a nightmare. In the morning, however, we set off on a side-quest adventure to Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. Prairie dogs skittered like squirrels, but more adorably and less rodent-y. Magpies sang from the shrubs and we even happened upon a herd of bison lazing about in the Colorado morning.

You see this shit? These bison are chillin' in the sun, eating grass, having cloven hooves and all that jazz. What have you done today? / Caitlin O'Hara
You see this shit? These bison are chillin’ in the sun, eating grass, having cloven hooves and all that jazz. What have you done today? / Caitlin O’Hara

The experience was indescribable; never before have I felt such a connection with nature. I’m not sure if it was the altitude, or the fact that a chemical weapons production facility was repurposed into something majestic, environmentally conscious, and all that other liberal, hippie bullshit.

But all good things must come to an end, and unfortunately, they soon did. As we made our way south out of Denver, and out of Colorado Springs, our mechanical Conestoga succumbed to the elements and wear of our odyssey.

I'm not your buddy, guy. / Eric Ellis
I’m not your buddy, guy. / Eric Ellis

More on that soon…

“REQUEST FOR IMMEDIATE ACTION — TIME SENSITIVE MATERIAL ENCLOSED”

This is a courtesy to you, valued client.

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regarding your current heart rate.

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Your unbroken neighbors are enjoying themselves
with sweating iced teas, white fans, shade trees.
Why aren’t you?

NOTE: This notification was hand-carved
by ribcage kids. Four-year-old fingers may
be brittle, but damn they can wield whatever
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Subject: Letter From Hospital

My Dearest One,
 
This is Miss Christelle Grah from Trinidad &Tobago. I am writing from a hospital in Ivory Coast, therefore this mail is very urgent, I am dying in the hospital which i don’t know what tomorrow will be. I was told by my doctor that i was poisoned and has got my liver damaged and can only live for some months, and my step mother is the one that wants to kill me, to take my belongings since after the death of my Father.
 
I have a little orphan child, named Maranatha Augustine and $2.5 million Dollars i inherited from my late father, my step mother and her children are after Augustine because he knows about the documents of the money and about the poison, for this reason they do not want Augustine to expose them, so they will do anything possible to kill him, so i want you to help him out of this country with the money.
 
This is the favour i need when you have gotten the money:
 
(1) Set out 20% of the money to establish my Augustine as he has been there for me through out my illness and I have promised to support him in life. I want you to take him along with you to your country and establish him as your son.
 
(2) Give 30% of the money to handicap people and charity organization. The remaining 50% should be for you and others that you would love to assist.
 
Note; This should be a code between you and my orphan child in this transaction “Hospital” any mail from him, the Lawyer he will direct you to, without this code “Hospital” is not from Augustine, the Lawyer or myself as I don’t know what will happen to me in the next few hours.
 
Please do get back to me so that I can give you the contact of my orphan child Maranatha Augustine, he will give you the documents of the money and will direct you to a well known lawyer that i have appointed to him, the lawyer will assist you to change the documents of the money to your name to enable the bank transfer the money to you.
 
And Let Augustine send you his International passport to be sure of whom you are dealing with. Augustine is so little therefore guide him. And if I don’t hear from you, I will look for another person or an organization.
 
May Almighty God bless you and use you to accomplish my wish. Pray for me always.
 
Miss Christelle Grah